Playing its first season in 1996 when about five or seven (maybe ten) United States citizens gave a shit about the sport, Major League Soccer (MLS) is, as its name implies, the professional soccer league of the U.S. and Canada, with 19 teams competing in a 34-game regular season and a 10-team playoffs. After a rocky first decade, MLS has grown into a bonafide professional sports league almost in the same realm as the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL — with each four years getting a boost from the growing national pride (and relative success) of the United States men’s national soccer team in the World Cup. If there was any doubt left that the U.S. was ready to embrace soccer full on, June’s match between the U.S. and Germany (and Tim Howard’s monster performance) clarified them all — ESPN reported that almost triple the people, at 1.7 million, watched that game on its mobile app over the 600,000 that watched the Super Bowl on it. If ever there was a time for MLS to capitalize on this, it’s now and this past week they announced their vision for the next phase of the league, including a revision of their logo, designed by Brooklyn, NY-based Athletics and Berliner Benson.
At first, [the identity] appears as a simple static crest in red, white and blue. A nod to traditional sports branding, but with a stripped down contemporary attitude.
But the action has barely started.
The identity neatly expands, rotates and transforms to flex, embrace and connect with its multiple audiences: each club gets their color version of the new mark to sit proudly on jersey sleeves alongside their own club crest. The ‘second half’ or bottom window of the crest behaves like a container or portal into still or moving content.
The old logo had more in common with the NBA and MLB logos in that it showed a very literal aspect of the game through a silhouette in the center and one field of color on each side. Clear, to the point, and unmistakeable. Also” obvious. In contrast to the NBA and MLB logos, MLS’ was almost like a Renaissance painting in how much realistic detail it had in the cleat and ball in its full color application, which has been used less in the last few years but remains the most recognizable in all of the league’s logos. Moving away from this construction — something MLS answers, along with other FAQs, quite well here — means that they are moving into the other spectrum of well-known professional league logos like the NFL or NHL, relying on a shield and the name recognition. This alone is a testament to both the awareness of soccer and the confidence of MLS in that it doesn’t need to tell you it’s a soccer logo by putting a silhouette of Tim Howard saving a goal sandwiched between blue and red. Instead it tries to speak soccer’s crest-obsessive lexicon with a minimalist contribution.
The simplicity and ambiguity of the new logo have drawn somewhat understandable criticism: why three stars? Why a slash that sprouts off the shield? Why, ohdeargodwhy, is there empty space? Although not perfect, to me this is one of the best American professional league logos that finally dares to do something different, stepping outside of common expectations. It’s a strikingly simple crest/shield shape that easily triggers associations to both the more illustrative crests/shields of MLS teams and the more spare and traditional crests/shields of European fubol clubs. The main (flat) red-white-and-blue logo and the limited number of stars say “America” as nicely as possible. The stars, which stand for “Club, Country and Community” could as easily stand for “Car, Camera and Compass” but it’s charming that they are trying to imbue them with a rallying cry. The typography and its extra tight setting are okay, probably my least favorite part of the logo, but a condensed and wider tracked acronym would have caused other problems, so this works fine even though it’s not the solution.
Then there is the white space. I find it fascinating (relatively speaking in this industry, at this level of mainstream-mess). Not because it’s just empty space but because of the possibilities and how well it can integrate with other things. See the images directly below or the results of Reddit users customizing the empty area, summarized here. Although limited by the angle, it’s still a versatile feature of the logo that may actually be its best asset, providing an area for customization and playfulness that no other pro league has — with good reason, as no one wants a million-dollar-valued brand tampered with.
At the heart of the mark are 3 key elements working together to tell the story of the league — the MLS monogram in strong DIN Next Pro sits above 3 stars, reminiscent of the world cup stars that winners get to put on their crests, but representing Club, Country and Community — the 3 pillars of this purposefully refreshed brand.
And then there’s the slash. A forward looking, dynamic line, slicing through the mark itself, that breaks through its perimeter like a sliding tackle to show this game goes beyond the standard format — it’s a fast-paced, non-stop, exciting and surprising sport, with room for individual and team flair at every opportunity. And it also represents a league on the rise with its eyes on the prize.
There isn’t much to see in application yet other than a couple of print-ad-looking things that build on the slash and its angle. Time will tell what’s going to happen to the logo in the hands of Photoshop-savvy fans but as a statement to signal the evolution of soccer as a viable fan-fueled professional sport, this well publicized “MLS Next” effort has been perfectly timed and executed as well and interestingly as it could have. For soccer to stand out as the weird, international sport that doesn’t conform to the TV-friendly format of American sports, this logo is exactly what it needs.